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The topic of eschatology – the study of last things – is an area of theology that is often considered highly controversial, debatable and divisive. It is true that many people can be adamantly and even aggressively committed to their particular understanding of the unfolding of history and the consummation of all things. Some end-times zealots are even willing to call others heretics for differing with their particular view. One only needs to visit a Facebook group, Reddit thread or chat forum on the topic to see just how vile some interactions can turn!
On the other hand, a lot of Christians in the Evangelical church today consider eschatology an unimportant part of their doctrine, categorizing it as a secondary or tertiary issue. “We just need to all agree that Christ is coming back” can be a polite dismissive way of turning the topic to something else when it comes up. This can be driven by fear, ignorance or apathy. Many view eschatology as the sort of thing that ivory tower theologians debate, but which has no real relevance to their lives today. Others see it as a doom and gloom topic that crazy televangelists obsessed with tensions in the Middle East get all fired up – going on about a rebuilt temple and something about a fat heifer for reasons they don’t even want to get into. Even more, some feel like it is a topic that they can never hope to understand (after all, if all of these PhDs can’t figure it out – how can a layperson hope to do so?).
As a result, many Christians and churches today decide (either explicitly or implicitly) to avoid healthy debate and discussion concerning the topic altogether. Many others simply adopt the tradition they have inherited through their church or favourite set of Bible teachers without critically analyzing it. However, while it is true that one’s eschatology should not divide us in terms of one’s status of salvation and fellowship within a local congregation, it is important to many aspects of daily Christian life and faith. Eschatology is not of primary importance, but it is not unimportant. As we will see here, what we believe about the End Times affects our times and the way we live today in significant ways which are often overlooked.
This article will serve as an introduction to the topic of Eschatology, laying out and defining the major views and then offering a few ways in which our beliefs about this topic affect the way we live as Christians today. In future articles, we will consider some of the important Biblical texts in seeking to form a Biblically faithful Eschatology.
The Eschatological Landscape
Part of the reason why this topic can seem so daunting to believers to figure out is the preponderance of views on it. There are 4 major Millennial positions and then a few additional sub-positions that intersect which make it seem complex to beginners. Add to this the fact that within each of these camps, there are people who hold slightly different variations of the major views and it can seem overwhelming.
To help you make sense of this, I’ll do my best to lay them out clearly here and their relationship to each other.
No, this isn’t about the opinions of whinny people who love avocado toast and want participation trophies (joking!). The Millennium in view here is the 1000-year reign of Christ written about in Revelation 20. In Revelation 20, the Devil is bound for a thousand years (20:2) so that he might not deceive the nations during the millennium, after which he is released for a short period (v.3). The saints are viewed as reigning with Christ for the thousand years (v.4-6). There is a brief rebellion led by Satan after the 1000 years which is followed by him being cast into the lake of fire (v.7-10) and the Great White Throne Judgment (v. 11-15).
While Revelation 20 is a key text, it is by no means the most important text in issues relating to Eschatology. What adds to the difficulty is that Revelation 20 occurs in a book which is infamous for how highly symbolic it is and difficult to interpret apart from appropriate Old Testament and First Century context. Thus, it is a little strange why the views have been categorized according to views on the Millennium so prominently. However, we have to work with things as they are.
So, here are the 3 major views of the Millennium and one of the popular off-shoots.
Historic Premillennialism (PreMil)
Premillennialism (Premil) is the position that says Christ will come back before the millennial reign in Revelation 20. The “Pre” prefix means before.
According to this view, the present church age continues toward a time of Great Tribulation. After this time of tribulation, at the end of the church age, Christ returns and establishes a physical earthly millennial kingdom. When he returns, Satan will be bound and believers who have died will be resurrected. Then, together with them, believers who are still alive will reign with him on earth for the 1000 years. Both will receive glorified resurrection bodies and many of the unbelievers still on earth will turn to Christ and be saved during this millennial age. At the end of the millennium, Satan will be released to lead a final rebellion with the many unbelievers who still remain unconverted. Satan will be decisively defeated and the Second Resurrection of dead unbelievers will be raised for final judgment before the eternal state. This view tends to be pessimistic about the flow of history approaching the End, expecting things to get worse and worse as we come closer to the End. It was also a very popular position within the Early and Patristic Church and is sometimes referred to as Chiliasm (coming from the Greek chīliasmós, meaning a thousand).
Dispensational Premillennialism (Dispy PreMil)
A modern variation on the Historic PreMil position is called Dispensational Premillennialism (Dispy PreMil). This view did not exist in Church History until the late 1800s and its origin is often connected with John Nelson Darby (1800-1882). In this view, Christ’s return is not just before the millennium, but also before the Great Tribulation—so it adds another, sudden, return of Christ to call believers to himself commonly referred to as the Rapture. This position within Dispy PreMil is called the Pre-Tribulation Rapture and is the most popular view within this camp. According to this view, after the Rapture, there will be a seven-year tribulation period. During this time, the AntiChrist will set up his false kingdom through deception, a traitorous compact with the Jewish people will be made which will lead to a second holocaust, the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem will be rebuilt with sacrifices re-established and times on earth will get increasingly more difficult with increased persecutions and disasters over the 7 year period. After this Great Tribulation, Christ will return in fullness to forcibly overthrow the AntiChrist and to reign for the millennium physically on earth. They believe there will then be a brief rebellion as Satan is released at the end of the literal 1000 years, which Christ will squash and usher in the eternal state. Some proponents of this view also see two Resurrections occurring – one of the just to glory before the millennium and another of the unjust to judgment at the End when Satan is thrown into the lake of fire.
As one can see, in this view, ethnic and national Israel plays an important role in the End Times – hence why it tends to be very interested in the happenings in the Middle East and sometimes blindly supportive of Israel today. They see Israel becoming a nation again in the 1940s as eschatologically significant, and on this basis, many argue that we are living in the Last Days as the generation that will see Christ’s return. Many popular Dispensational teachers in past decades actually taught with confidence that the Rapture would occur in the 1980s (because a generation is 40 years, and Israel became a nation in the 1940s). That obviously didn’t work out too well for them, yet their books are somehow still selling and they’re still making predictions of a Rapture anytime now. Furthermore, many proponents of this view do not see the Kingdom as a present reality but rather something that happens in the future during the Millennial reign of Christ. Thus, some go so far as to say that Satan is currently the ruler of the world and Jesus is enthroned in Heaven but will not be King on earth until later.
Other variations of Dispy PreMil differ on where to place the Rapture. Some argue for a Partial Rapture View which states that only faithful believers who are “watching” and “waiting” for the Lord’s return will be taken in the Rapture with the rest left on earth to suffer the Tribulation. Some others argue for Mid-Trib (which places it at the middle of the 7 years of Tribulation), others argue for Post-Trib (which places it at the end fo the Great Tribulation and is not to be confused with PostMil). Yet more positions within Dispy PreMil use the terms Pre-Wrath and Post-Wrath for their views of the Rapture with other distinctive beliefs. Because of this emphasis on the Rapture doctrine, another feature of Dispy PreMil is called imminency – that is, the expectation of an any-moment return of Christ to rapture the Church. This view is by far the most complex of the Eschatological systems. It also tends to be the most pessimistic of the Millennial positions, seeing the decline of society into increasing ungodliness as a sign that the time is near. The doctrine of the sudden any-moment Rapture also makes it tend towards End Time speculation and thinking that we are in the last generation on earth now with not much time left.
However, even with all of this complexity, Dispensational Premillennialism has become very popular among a lot of mainstream Evangelicals and is the majority view of a lot of Christians today. It is the most popular view amongst TV preachers and popular Evangelists of the last century, even though it is historically novel.
Amillennialism (Amil) understands the Second Coming of Christ to be a single event, instead of occurring in two phases. The name Amillennialism comes from the Greek prefix “a” – which is a negator implying “no millennium”. However, this is an unfortunate misnomer and misrepresentation of the Amil position. They do believe in a millennium, but they just conceptualize it differently from PreMil and PostMil.
For Amils, the binding of Satan in Revelation 20 for a thousand years refers to the present rule of Christ through the church, beginning at the death and resurrection of Jesus (John 12:31-33) and continuing until the Parousia. It understands the Millennium as the Spiritual reign of Christ and his saints, and the number 1000 as a symbolic number (as almost all the numbers are in the book of Revelation) which represents a long and complete time (1000 = 10x10x10). Some see the Millennial reign as only referring to the deceased saints in heaven, while others view it as also earthly in a spiritual sense through the Church. Amil believes that because Satan was bound by Christ’s victory at the Cross and Resurrection, the spread of the Gospel is not able to be hindered by Satan deceiving the nations, though he still exercises significant, yet limited influence. It understands his “binding” as being for a specific purpose – “that he might not deceive the nations” (Rev. 20:3). Amils tend to conceptualize the Kingdom as primarily spiritual in nature until the eschaton when Christ returns and inaugurates a physical reign. Amils usually also take a symbolic approach to interpret the book of Revelation and see it as 7 cycles of recapitulation instead of a straight line of chronology. They point out the fact that the end seems to occur 7 times in Revelation, indicating that the book is not meant to be read as a straightforward chronology, but rather as progressive parallelism with each cycle retelling aspects of the history of redemption and moving increasingly closer to the End with each recapitulation.
Amil understands the First Resurrection as an allusion to a Christian’s salvation, which is spoken of as conversion from spiritual death to life, at which the saints begin to reign presently with Christ (cf. Eph 2:1-7; Col 3:1-4). Amils believe that throughout history there are times when the Gospel is in season and out of season – good times and bad times – which can tend to go in cycles. Thus, many Amils believe that Christ’s return could be either during a time of upswing or downswing. Amil expects the Church to experience both victories and suffering simultaneously until the second coming. So, you tend to find both optimistic and pessimistic Amils – the view is perhaps the most “neutral” in terms of its outlook on the flow of history. However, most Amils do believe that there will be final apostasy and increasing persecution as we near the End Time.
As Alan Bandy notes, “Important to the amillennialist understanding is the tension of “already/not yet.” Christians presently live in the inaugurated kingdom, as Christ reigns from heaven; yet, they await the kingdom’s full realization, when Christ will reign on Earth eternally.” It also sees the promises made to Israel in the OT as fulfilled in Christ and the Church, often in a spiritual sense. Since these promises have been fulfilled, no future fulfillment is required. They see the Church as fulfilling the promises to Israel as the true Israel of God (see Rom. 4:1-16; Gal. 6:16). In Amillennialism, there is not as much of a heavy emphasis on the doctrine of the imminent return of Christ since we do not know if he will return on an up-cycle or a down-cycle. This view can sometimes tend towards a disengaged disposition in redeeming the various supposedly “secular” aspects of society such as politics because of its spiritualized conception of the nature of the Kingdom. Sometimes, Radical Two Kingdoms Theology is held in tandem with this view that sharply divides between the Secular and Sacred realms – the Church is concerned with the sacred while the secular is left in a supposedly “neutral” sphere.
Postmillennialism (Postmil) understands that Christ will return after the millennium. PostMil and Amil share a lot of common beliefs, and some would even say that PostMil is simply a more hopeful version of Amil. In fact, Amillennialists were known as Postmillennialists up until the 1900s. However, there are enough differences to keep them distinct.
Both agree that Christ’s Final Coming brings one general physical resurrection of the righteous and the wicked at the End, followed by the final judgment, and culminating with the new heavens and new earth. This is one of the major distinctions between them and the PreMil view. Both agree that God’s promises to OT Israel are fulfilled through Christ and the Church (indeed, all the promises of God find their yes and amen in him – 2 Cor. 1:20). Thus, national Israel does not feature as prominently in these systems, although both affirm that God will save many Jewish people through the expanse of the Gospel. Both agree that the 1000-year Millennium of Revelation 20 is a figurative period where the Gospel is preached throughout the world because Satan is bound. According to this view, the progress of the Gospel will gradually increase until a majority of the world becomes Christian. This does not mean that every single person will be regenerated and saved, but rather that the influence of the Gospel will be pervasive throughout all of society.
They point to Jesus’s parables of the growth of the Kingdom in Matthew 13 as illustrative of this: the Kingdom is like a mustard seed and like leaven which eventually grows to take over the garden and leaven the whole lump of dough. As a result, society will be influenced by Christianity and increasingly function according to God’s standards. This is why Theonomy—which is the study of applying principles of God’s Law to govern all aspects of society—is also often closely tied to PostMillennialism. PostMils would also point to Jesus’s promise that the gates of Hell (which are defensive) will not withstand the advance of the Church as he build it in Matthew 16:18 and the fact that Jesus puts his total authority, power and promise of his presence behind the Great Commission to disciple the nations in Matthew 28:18-20. They reason that if Jesus has guaranteed that Hell’s opposition will not thwart His building of the Church, and disciples have all His authority, power and presence backing their commission to make disciples of the nations, and God promises to make the nations his heritage in Psalm 2, then how can you avoid the worldwide expanse of the Kingdom in time and history?
Many PostMils believe that as the Kingdom grows, it will gradually usher in a Golden Age of peace and righteousness on earth which will last for a long period of time. Some view this as the Millennial reign, while others would see the whole period of time from Christ’s ascension to his return as the Millennium. In this sense, PostMil agrees with PreMil about the nature of the Kingdom as earthly, but disagrees with its timing and inauguration. At the end of this period, Christ will return to a conquered and Christianized earth, believers and unbelievers will be raised at the General Resurrection, and the Final Judgment will occur ushering in the new heavens and earth and the entrance into the eternal state.
This view is the most optimistic out of all the Millennial positions. The PostMil view also does not tend to stress the immanency of Christ’s return since the growth of the Kingdom is gradual and happens over a long period of time. Thus, in this view, we could still be in the Early Church period and Christ could tarry for hundreds or even thousands of years still. One of the key texts for this belief is the repeated affirmation that Christ shall reign until he has put every enemy under His feet, and the last enemy to be defeated before the End is death itself (see for example, Psalm 110:1; 1 Cor. 15:25-26).
In terms of the differences between the major views (PreMil, Amil and PostMil), one of the critical questions is whether this age will transition immediately into the eternal state/golden age, or whether there is another intermediary stage of the eschatological kingdom which lays in between. Premils argue that passages such as Isaiah 11 and 65-66, Zechariah 14, and 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 indicate such an intermediary stage. However, Amils and PostMils contend that these passages refer either to the church age or the final state. Another major difference is that all the other Millennial views tend to be pessimistic about the ultimate direction of society in time before the return of Christ. Some have even jokingly called them “Pessimillennialism”. They all believe in some sort of general decline to varying degrees. However, PostMil is committedly optimistic and hopeful about the Gospel’s success to transform the world.
Views of Eschatological Prophecy
In addition to the Millennial stances, there are other views relevant to Eschatology. They have to do with how one views many of the prophecies in the Bible concerning the Last Days, particularly Jesus’s prophecies in Matthew 24, and the book of Revelation. These views are Futurism, Idealism, Historicism and Preterism.
As the name implies, this view sees the majority of prophecies concerning the Last Days and the book of Revelation as in the future to us today. It sees the prophecies of Jesus in Matthew 24 about the end of the age and Great Tribulation as still in our future, and hence, we can expect things to get worse leading up to this fulfillment. Many PreMils, Dispys and Amils hold to some form of this view of prophecy.
This view is also called the Spiritual view. Concerning the book of Revelation, it sees an allegorical representation of the types of things or events believers may expect in the time between the inauguration of Christ’s kingdom and its consummation. Therefore, it doesn’t see the events of Revelation as necessarily tied to any one specific event in history. It focuses on principles and ideas of the cosmic spiritual conflict of our war with Satan which will repeat in various forms until the Second Coming. Thus, it focuses on broad patterns and how it is repeated throughout the world and history. It is distinct from the other views in that it does not see any of the prophecies (except in some cases the Second Coming, and Final Judgment) as being fulfilled in a literal, physical, earthly sense either in the past, present or future. This view is predominantly held by Amils, although not all Amils are Idealists. Some tend to take a more eclectic approach holding Futurist, Idealistic, Preterist and Historic views on various prophecies.
The Historicist view sees the book of Revelation as a sort of template for history. They typically understand the prophecies to be continuous from the times of the prophets to the present day and beyond. So, it often can see multiple fulfillments of these types, but many argue that exact time periods are specified. For example, it could see Nero and the Roman papacy as versions of the antichrist, and the Middle Ages, the French Revolution, and two World Wars as times of Great Tribulation. Many adherents of this position view Revelation 1-3 as seven periods in church history, the breaking of the seals in chapters 4-7 as symbolizing the fall of the Roman Empire, the Trumpet judgments in chapters 8-10 as the invasions of the Roman Empire by the Vandals, Huns, Saracens, and Turks, chapters 11-13 as representing the true church in its struggle against Roman Catholicism, the bowl judgments in 14-16 as God’s judgment on the Catholic Church leading to the future overthrow of Catholicism depicted in chapters 17-19. It concerns itself with tracking the church’s development over the centuries and tries to align historical events with what is described in Revelation. However, one of the problems is the lack of agreement concerning how to align these events to Revelation and this has led to its waning support. It also tends to be very centred on finding fulfillment only within the history Western world.
This word comes from the Latin, preter, meaning “past”. It believes that many (Partial Preterism) or all (Hyper/Full Preterism) of the Bible’s prophecies have been fulfilled already. Hyper or Full Preterism which denies a future physical Final Coming of Christ and eschaton is considered to be heresy by most Evangelical Christians and Historic Church Creeds. However, Partial Preterism is a legitimate, historic and orthodox position. It understands many of the fulfillments of Jesus’s predictions concerning the destruction of the Temple in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24) and many of the events of Revelation as having already been fulfilled in the events leading up to the Fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD which signalled the end of the Old Covenant age. It takes seriously the fact that Jesus made those predictions to his original audience and promised that “this generation”, meaning his contemporaries, will not pass away before all of it took place. It points out that there are many early and Patristic writers in church history who use the fulfillment of events in 70 AD as an apologetic for the veracity of Jesus’s prophecies.
It recognizes that many of the references to the Last Days in the NT are in reference to the time period of great tribulation leading up to the Fall of Jerusalem, and thus had immediate relevance for the original audience of the letters of the NT. It interprets the majority of the book of Revelation as concerning that same time period as John writes as a “partner in the present tribulation” (Rev. 1:9) – present to him in the First Century – and was writing about what was “soon to take place” (v. 1). It points out that over and over the time markers in the NT about the Last Days are that they are “soon”, coming “shortly” or “quickly”, that Jesus is “at the gate” and “near” to those in the First Century. Other views have to find other ways around these near-time indicators for the original audience.
Partial Preterism is often held by PostMils, although some Amils also hold to various forms of Preterism.
My Journey to a Hopeful Eschatology
Personally, I have gone through all the Millennial positions as I grew in my faith and understanding of theology. I started off as a Dispensational Premillennialist by default, since that was the only position available in my church context growing up in Trinidad. I took it for granted that this was the only way to view the End Times since everyone around me and all the books and movies I had access to seemed to confirm this. The only squabble seemed to be between whether we expect a Pre-Trib, Mid-Trib or Post-Trib rapture. Books like the Left Behind series of fiction novels, preachers and televangelists like John Hagee and David Jeremiah influenced my views significantly. As a result, I tended to have a pessimistic view of the future and took seriously that I may not live to old age or even have time to have and raise kids before the end came.
Later in life, I started to grow weary of the endless End Times speculations and failed predictions of the Rapture by many Dispensationalists. I distinctly remember many times in my earlier years when someone I knew or some TV preacher predicted that the Rapture was right around the corner – whether it was because of the Gulf War or Y2K. It seemed too sensational and prone to conspiracy theories. Also, it didn’t make sense to me that the Dispensational system sees the Jewish Temple and sacrifices re-initiated (even in a memorialist fashion) when the whole book of Hebrews is about NOT going back to those things! Not only that, but a lot of the core beliefs of Dispensationalism, I couldn’t find in the Bible – especially when you consider the verses they use as prooftexts within their proper contexts. Nowhere in the Bible does it talk about a rebuilt third Temple (the Temple that was destroyed in the first century was the Second Temple and prophecies relating to rebuilding the Temple in the OT are fulfilled with that Temple). Nowhere does it teach a 7-year Tribulation. You have to piece it together by smashing bits and pieces from all over the Bible. Nowhere does it say that there is some sort of gap or pause in Daniel’s 70 weeks of years. Yet all these things are essential to Dispy PreMil.
Then I dropped the Dispensationalism and became a bit more of a Historic PreMil – although I did not read extensively on this, I did encounter the position through some Bible commentaries. I felt like this freed me from living in constant anxiety over being “left behind” and always speculating about what was going on in the Middle East. However, it didn’t make sense to me how Jesus could be physically reigning on earth in the Millennium and you still have death, unbelievers and apostasy! Also, the pessimism concerning the advance and spread of the Kingdom and the success of the Gospel proclamation did not make for much of a motivation for the mission. Why bother if you know we’re guaranteed to fail?
When I went to seminary to pursue my Master’s degree, I determined to explore eschatology more intentionally. I started to read more widely and came across some Reformed Amillennial writers. Their arguments were compelling and the way they dealt with many Scriptures seemed more consistent than the PreMil interpretations I had been used to. It was after my third year of Greek in an exegesis class in the book of Revelation where I had to do many exercises in translating from the Greek text that I started to be more compelled of an Amil position. The insight of recapitulation in the book of Revelation was an eye-opener for me and helped me make more natural sense of the flow of the book than a strict literal chronological reading (why did the End seem to happen multiple times?). I saw that what many PreMil and Dispys do in splitting events (like the Rapture and Resurrection), actually makes more sense in unifying them and seeing them as referring to the same event. I held an Amil view for a few years until more recently. It helped me to shed some of my overly pessimistic views about the future, but I still was not convinced of the success of the Great Commission, and it was puzzling to me why the Devil would knowingly work so hard to bring us closer to his ultimate demise.
About three years ago, I decided that my eschatological journey really wouldn’t be complete without seriously considering PostMil arguments. Prior to this, I had only had a cursory understanding and limited engagement with the PostMil view. At the encouragement of a friend, I realized I had too simply dismissed it without actually wrestling with their best arguments. So, I started to read the best resources I could find from a PostMil perspective and also watched and listened to some preachers. One of the influential books for me was R.C. Sproul’s book, The Last Days According to Jesus, where he argues persuasively for a Preterist understanding of the Olivet Discourse according to the sound exegesis of Scripture and appeals to historical fulfillment in the First Century accounts. This and other resources, such as reading large sections of Josephus’s accounts of the First Century after Christ’s ministry and the years leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem, convinced me that a Preterist understanding of Jesus’s prophecies concerning the end of the age is the most consistent with the Biblical text when we consider the meaning of words and original audience context. The historical accounts of this time period leading up to 70 AD read like the fulfillment of Jesus’s words exactly and I think much of the reason many Christians today don’t see it is because of their unfamiliarity with the history.
Once I was convinced of a Preterist view of Matthew 24, everything else seemed to fall into place. It was a logical step to reason that if the Great Tribulation had already happened in 70 AD, then what should we expect for the future? Since it was already past, then our expectations do not need to be pessimistic. Thus, this eliminates both PreMil views and many Amil views. This opened me up to considering the PostMil view on other areas of the Bible’s teaching on eschatology. Other authors such as Gary DeMar, Kenneth Gentry, Greg Bahnsen, and David Chilton were also very helpful.
I began to consider other passages such as Psalms 2 and 110 which speak of Christ’s reign on earth now after his death and resurrection. I started to see how Christ was already announcing his Kingdom as a present reality during his ministry on earth – he enters proclaiming to “repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand” in Matthew 3:2 and gives proof that indeed his Kingdom was being inaugurated and confirmed by his signs of casting out demons (Matt. 12:28; Luke 11:20). Christ ends his ministry by affirming that he has all authority not just in heaven but also on earth (Matt. 28:18-20). Thus, contrary to PreMil, Christ’s Kingdom is not a future promise but a present reality now. He reigns presently over everything and we as His ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20) proclaim His Kingdom through the preaching of the Gospel and discipleship to obey all that He has commanded in every sphere of life, demolishing opposing ideologies and bringing every thought captive and into obedience to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). Paul’s account of the end also clearly implies the gradual conquest of Christ’s Kingdom over all earthly enemies. After proclaiming the Resurrection, he writes,
“Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”(1 Cor. 15:24-26)
Here Paul’s chronology of history clearly teaches that the End only comes AFTER Christ has destroyed every enemy. He currently rules and extends that rule through His Church’s Gospel ministry. We know from Psalm 110, which Paul is quoting here, that in verse 2 it says that Christ rules in the midst of his enemies. Thus, his reign is not in the midst of peace, but right now in the midst of even his enemies! Every enemy must be subdued – abortion, tyranny, corruption, greed, etc. – and then when he returns he finishes the job by putting death to death and ushering in the eternal state.
No matter your eschatological position currently, you have to wrestle honestly with what these passages clearly teach about the flow of history. Unlike PreMil and Amil beliefs, it seems that these verses clearly teach that when Christ returns, there will be no more death (v. 26). However, the PreMil version of the Millennium allows for physical death even during Christ’s physical presence on earth! Also, the word “until” is important. His reign is from heaven at the right hand of God (Psa. 110:1) until every enemy is subdued. It doesn’t happen by him leaving Heaven and coming down to earth again and vanquishing his foes in one apocalyptic swoop, but rather gradually UNTIL they are all made a footstool.
Thus, this left me with a very optimistic view of the end times, a long-term view of history and an expanded view of the magnificence of Christ’s Kingdom and the Church’s mission today.
Now, I don’t expect this one article to convince you of my particular eschatological view (Partial Preterist PostMil). That will be the task of future articles for your consideration. However, at this moment I want to briefly point out a few practical ways that your eschatological viewpoint will affect how you live in comparison with a PostMil view.
1. Planning for the Future
Many Christians who believe in a pessimistic eschatology, particularly with the Dispensational view, because of their belief that we are the “Fig Tree generation” that will likely see the Rapture any moment now, tend to not give a lot of motivation for planning for the future. Now, this is not to say that all Dispensationalists live without thought for the future. However, many do. Many live in such a way that they intend on spending everything and doing all they can for the now without much thought for future generations which they are convinced will not exist. Indeed, this was the way I lived for a long time because it was consistent with my eschatology. Some Dispensationalists can tend to have a low view of stewardship of the environment and building infrastructure for future generations because “it’ll all be burnt up soon.” It is summarized in the popular catchphrase, “there’s no point polishing brass on a sinking ship.”
Historic PreMils and Amils fare better in this regard since their system does not necessitate an immediate any moment return of Christ. However, PostMil, with its long view of history provides the most natural impetuous for planning for the future out of all the eschatological systems.
Related to this is the issue of leaving a legacy and an inheritance for one’s kids and grandchildren. Proverbs 13:22 says, “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, but the sinner’s wealth is laid up for the righteous.” And 2 Cor. 12:14 confirms this in the NT. We are told to leave a legacy of faith not just to our children, but even to our grandkids (Deut. 4:9) and God has said that He is faithful and keeps His covenant and steadfast love to even a thousand generations (Deut. 7:9)!
Many of the more pessimistic eschatologies downplay this important Biblical principle. Even worse, some encourage people not to have kids at all and actively disobey the command to “be fruitful and multiply”. I’ve met couples who believe in Dispensationalism who actually have chosen not to have kids because they believe that the world is going to get worse and worse so they’re just going to wait for the Rapture. Others choose to have smaller families. This is a terrible shame and sad state of affairs. Children are a blessing and strong, Biblically faithful families are an essential part of how God’s Kingdom grows through ordinary means. PostMils generally tend to be very pro-children and pro-big families.
2. Engagement in the Public Sphere
Most of the pessimistic eschatologies (PreMil, Dispy PreMil and Amil) often have a very low view of engagement in the public square or an underdeveloped theology of public engagement. Because of either their belief that ultimately the institutions in the public sphere like government, politics, education, entertainment, media, arts, business and economy, etc. are ultimately doomed to corruption and decay into sinfulness or the belief that Christ’s Kingdom is only spiritual and limited to ecclesiastical matters, there is a low motivation for trying to engage in the public square. Often, even if there is engagement, it is merely for the purpose of Gospel proclamation of personal salvation and to come out of the wicked world. Some views even look at certain spheres like politics as dirty and unbecoming of Christians.
Thus, these views can leave much of the public sphere without the salty and illuminating influence of meaningful Christian presence. However, PostMil has a strong emphasis on bringing the Gospel of the Kingdom to bear on all of life. No sphere is apart from Christ’s reign and rule, and thus all of them must be brought into subjection to glorify Him according to His Word. Also, there is a strong impetus to build things – schools, production houses, universities, hospitals, etc. Much of what the Puritans who came over to North America to build the new world from England was born out of their PostMil worldview. They were aiming to build something to last for generations and we are recipients of that blessed inheritance.
Related to this is the view of redeeming culture. Now, some of the other views do have a theology of the redemption of culture. However, ultimately, their expectations are limited. Perhaps we may have some temporal success, but we cannot expect long-lasting success at cultural transformation. PostMil not only seeks to transform the culture but also expects it to work! Perhaps not in our lifetimes, but over the long haul of history, Christ will have dominion from sea to sea and from the rivers to the ends of the earth in everything (Psa. 72:8)! It expects that “the kings of the earth will bring their glory” into the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:24) and all sorts of cultural artifacts will glorify God in the renewed earth.
While some in the other eschatologies do work for cultural redemption, your outlook and expectation matter in how you work at it. For example, if you are playing football and your team goes into a game saying, “well, there’s no way we can win this game boys, but we’ll give it our best anyways.” They are going to play very differently from a team that actually believes they can win, even though it will be a gruelling battle. Morale and motivations matter. PostMil does not believe that we can do this in our own strength, but that God will be faithful to His promise through His Spirit’s work in the lives of countless believers and the Church over time. There is not a single institution or artifact of culture that we do not say belongs to Christ and must be brought into submission to Him for His glory.
3. Purity of the Church
The pessimistic views expect an inevitable decline and weakening of the Church culminating eventually in a Great Apostasy. In effect, they expect the opposite of what Jesus says in Matthew 16 – that the gates of Hell WILL PREVAIL against his Church. They don’t see Kingdom growth as the long-term outcome, but rather a shrinking of the Kingdom so that only a “few” shall be saved and that in the Last Days the Church itself will not be pure but rather riddled with impurity.
However, PostMil expects to see the Church strengthen and grow – even through many times of persecution, suffering and trials which act like a refiner’s fire for the purity of the Church. Indeed, Judgment must start in the House of the Lord (1 Pet. 4:17)! Thus, there is also a strong motivation for the purity of the Church and its doctrine.
Only the PostMil view has the hope of expecting that Christ’s Bride, the Church, will actually accomplish the mission He gave her to win the nations to him. He has given her the most powerful weapons – the sword of the Spirit and prayer, the most mighty presence of His indwelling Spirit, and His promise of victory. What can stop her? To say that the Devil and his forces will be victorious against that sort of power is to claim that Satan is more powerful and sovereign – which is clearly untrue. It is to say that the Church loses in history and Christ has to come to rescue her a second time. Yet this is not what I believe the Bible teaches.
4. Evangelistic Motivation and Mission
All the eschatological positions have a strong motivation for evangelism. And this is good! However, there are some nuances of difference. For some of the more pessimistic outlooks, the motivation is more akin to “let’s try to save as many people before this ship goes down.” This can lead to a sort of Gospel message that sounds like a fire insurance pitch. It can even turn Gnostic in its devaluing of the worth of the physical and material world as part of God’s redemptive plan in time (Rom. 8:19). Evangelism then can become simply a plan to “save souls” and be disembodied from physical realities. Now, this does not mean that all the other views fall into this error – but it is a factor. A Reformed PostMil view, however, preaches a Gospel of the Kingdom. That men and women are called to repent in glad submission to Christ the King and seek first His Kingdom’s priorities now. Furthermore, because of its optimism, it expects to see Gospel success in every place in the long term. Many of the Puritans and Reformed missionaries were PostMil in their eschatology.
Related to this is a long-term view of the mission of God. Because PostMil views the mission of God not merely as the redemption of souls, but of the entire cosmos, it takes a long-term view of the mission. It seeks to build institutions and work generationally. It sees long-lasting change happening gradually and consistently instead of as a flash in a pan. For the PostMil, time is on their side. For other eschatologies, because of the imminent urgency, it can tend to have a short-term view of the mission. Also, the demeanour of the mission in pessimistic views can tend to be a “bunker mentality” of just trying to weather the storm and endure, instead of a “let’s go take that hill, boys!” mentality that seeks to storm Hell’s gates with Heavenly bombardment.
5. Confidence in Trials and a Victorious Outlook
All Christians find ultimate confidence in their security in Christ in the midst of trials regardless of their eschatological view. We know that to die is Christ and to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. However, PostMil also adds to this the knowledge that even if we should die, ultimately, God’s plan to win the world to Christ and subdue every enemy in time on earth will be successful. That one day, the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the seas (Hab. 2:14). This gives the type of confidence that a soldier on the battlefield who knows his side is superior and will win the war no matter the outcome of his personal fight. We have a different view of trials when we fight from a position of victory. Oftentimes, people with a more pessimistic outlook can fall into a depressed outlook on life in the here and now with no hopes of things ever turning around in the future.
Perhaps one of the most insightful differences for me is the view of Satan and the powers of evil. If you think it through logically, in the more pessimistic eschatologies, why would Satan continue to work so hard at doing the things which will hasten the coming of the End and his demise? Most Christians agree that the Devil knows the Word of God (though he obviously does not believe it in a saving way). So, he must know God’s plan for history and the End. Why then would Satan continue to work so hard at corrupting the world, governments, education, law, entertainment, churches, etc. if he knows that the more the world declines the closer his demise draws near? Why would he accelerate his own destruction? Now, some might argue because he’s stupid or has it mixed up – but that doesn’t seem like the sly snake the Bible portrays him as.
However, if the PostMil perspective is true, then it would make sense why the Devil is working so frantically to corrupt the world. It is the only way he can delay His ultimate defeat!
Furthermore, the PostMil view knows that ultimately all of Christ’s enemies will be put under his feet in history. That gives perspective when we’re surrounded by a world that seems to be overtaken by the Evil One. This world is not his and he’s living on borrowed time. The more that Christians wake up and take seriously their call to take godly dominion in every sphere, the closer Satan’s demise draws near. Thus, you see the efforts of Satan now like that of a ravenous, yet chained and desperate wild beast who knows its time is limited.
Lastly, the big practical difference between the views is that of hopefulness.
In the long run, it is victorious visions that survive. No one gets excited with a defeatist vision, “come join us as we lose for Jesus!” They may do this out of obligation or a sense of duty and loyalty. But it is not a very inspiring message and ultimately zeal tends to fade within a relatively short time. This is true even in the secular demonic false eschatologies like Marxism which believes it can win and remake the world. That is the type of vision that gets its followers excited, motivated to sacrifice for the vision and energized to work hard at it. This is why you have tons of psycho Marxists still trying to make this failed vision of flourishing work. However, that is a false hope. PostMil is the true victorious vision that says, “come join Christ as he makes every enemy his footstool!” That’s a vision that inspires many to give their lives for the sake of the Kingdom.
Now, I know that not all of these comparisons will be true for every single person who holds to a different eschatological viewpoint. There are far too many variations in beliefs for such generalizations to be 100% accurate in all cases. However, I do believe the generalizations help in terms of getting a broad view of things.
There are other practical implications we could expound on, but for now, I’ll end with a quote from the great prince of preachers, Charles H. Spurgeon, who once wrote in his commentary on the Psalms,
“David was not a believer in the theory that the world will grow worse and worse, and that the dispensations will wind up with general darkness, and idolatry. Earth’s sun is to go down amid tenfold night if some of our prophetic brethren are to be believed. Not so do we expect, but we look for a day when the dwellers in all lands shall learn righteousness, shall trust in the Saviour, shall worship thee alone, O God, “and shall glorify thy name.” The modern notion has greatly damped the zeal of the church for missions, and the sooner it is shown to be unscriptural the better for the cause of God. It neither consorts with prophecy, honours God, nor inspires the church with ardour. Far hence be it driven.”(Charles H. Spurgeon, Treasury of David, vol. 4, p.102)
As a side note, I’ve noticed that oftentimes the thing that is true is the thing that is least like the other competing options because true by its nature is exclusive. PostMil eschatology is the only optimistic eschatology. Now, that’s not necessarily a strong argument for it, but simply an observation. I’d like to end by re-emphasizing that disagreement on this topic does not kick one out of the Kingdom – we are still brothers and sisters in Christ with our ultimate hope that the Lord Jesus Christ will return physically to usher in the eternal state of bliss. However, these issues are important and have practical implications to our lives today. Any area of theology that we are weak in is the area that we are most susceptible to attack and lies.
So, for those for whom they’ve only known one perspective, I hope that this episode has at least opened up your awareness of other perspectives and maybe encouraged you to look into it more. I’ll put some links to resources below.
- The Last Days according to Jesus: When Did Jesus Say He Would Return? by R.C. Sproul
- He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology by Kenneth Gentry
- Victory in Jesus: The Bright Hope of Postmillennialism by Greg Bahnsen
- Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope by Keith A. Mathison
- Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church by Gary DeMar
Also check out my free series JESUS and the LAST DAYS
- JESUS & THE LAST DAYS | Which Generation Would See the End?
- JESUS & THE LAST DAYS | The End of the Age
- JESUS & THE LAST DAYS | Signs: Wars, Famine, Persecution
- JESUS & THE LAST DAYS | The Abomination of Desolation
- JESUS & THE LAST DAYS | The Coming of the Son of Man
- JESUS & THE LAST DAYS | The Rapture – Left Behind?